In an abrupt end, the defense rested today without putting the former coach on the stand.
At precisely 11:45 a.m., Jerry Sandusky’s defense attorney stood and said, “Your honor, at this time the defense rests.”
The court seemed shocked. There would be no testimony from Sandusky—charged with 51 sex-crime charges against children—and, more surprising, there would be no rebuttal case from the prosecution.
Before its dramatic conclusion, the day took a slow pace—a stark departure from the defense’s rapid-fire presentation yesterday, which saw a total of 21 witnesses take the stand. Court began more than half an hour late, and when Judge John Cleland took the bench he immediately announced to the room, “Juror No. 6 has called to say she is too ill to come today. She will be replaced by alternate juror No. 13.” At that, a 40-something woman sitting in a chair alongside the jury box moved over to the vacant seat on the right side of the back row. The jury makeup remains the same: seven women and five men. (It is widely believed that female jurors are more apt than male jurors to believe stories of alleged abuse victims.)
Defense witness No. 26 was the first to take the stand. Dr. John Dranov is a longtime friend of John McQueary and the father of one of the commonwealth’s key witnesses, Mike McQueary. By the end of his testimony, many concluded that Dranov had helped the prosecution more than he had helped Sandusky.
Dranov testified that he received an urgent call to come to the McQueary household late one Friday night in 2001. There, he told the jury, he found young Mike, an assistant Penn State football coach, in a state he’d never seen before. “His voice was trembling, his hands were shaking,” Dranov told the jury. He was “visibly upset.”
Dranov said the younger McQueary told a shocking story of hearing “sexual sounds” coming from the locker-room showers on Penn State’s campus—and then finding a naked young boy with Jerry Sandusky. “He said he made eye contact with the boy,” Dranov said for emphasis.
“Did he describe seeing a particular sex act?” the defense attorney asked, stressing a point they’ve tried to make throughout the case: that McQueary misinterpreted what he saw in the showers that night.
“No,” Dranov replied. “But, I think it was clear in his mind that this was an incident that needed to be reported.” He added that both he and McQueary Sr. advised Mike to report it to his immediate supervisor, the late head coach Joe Paterno.
It was duly noted that although as a doctor Dranov is a mandatory reporter, not one of the three men called the police.
Next, Chad Rexroad, a 35-year-old married father of two, came from Pittsburgh to defend the man he called his “father figure” and friend, Jerry Sandusky. The witness testified that he met the former Penn State coach through an elementary-school assignment to write to a person he admired. It was in 1986 or ’87, he said, and he wrote to several of his Penn State idols, both players and coaches. Sandusky responded, and exchanged letters with him long enough to learn he was an only child who lived in State College with his single mother, a Penn State student.
They began to spend time together, Rexroad said, and he spent nights at the Sandusky home, sleeping in the basement bedroom the jury has heard so much about. But nothing inappropriate ever happened between Sandusky and him, he said. Near tears, he added, “I want to thank him for all the things he’s done for me. That’s why I’m here today.”
At the defendant’s table, Sandusky smiled wide and nodded his head.
On cross-examination prosecutor Joe McGettigan asked, “Were you a skinny little blond boy when you were young?”
“Yes,” Rexroad answered.
“You work out with Mr. Sandusky?” McGettigan asked.
“Yes, in the weight room,” the witness said.
“You ever take a shower with Mr. Sandusky?”
“Not once,” was the terse reply.
David Hilton, a 21-year-old young man from Lancaster County, Pa., also traveled to this Centre County court to speak on behalf of the former Penn State coach. He appeared tense and apprehensive in the witness chair as he described how he met Sandusky during a speaking engagement in his town.
“Both my parents are deaf,” Hilton explained to the jury. (His brother is also deaf.) “So I was always behind. Every day he’d call me up and do dictionary words with me.” Sandusky bought him a gym membership, he said, and helped him get a job in middle school. “He’d ride me about doing my academics,” Hilton said with a grin. He too described Sandusky as a “father figure.”
Defense attorney Karl Rominger walked Hilton through a description of several visits he’d had from police detectives investigating Sandusky.
“I felt they wanted me to say things that wasn’t [sic] true,” Hilton said. “They said if I was lying I could get in trouble—with a felony.”
“Did anything inappropriate ever happen with you and Jerry?” Rominger asked.
The one word answer: “Never.”
On cross-examination, prosecutor McGettigan struck a familiar theme.
“Were you a little blond guy?”
“Yeah,” Hilton replied.
“A skinny little guy?” the prosecutor asked.
“Yes,” he said.
After establishing that Hilton had worked out with Sandusky as a boy, the prosecutor asked if he had ever taken a shower with the older man.
“I have never tooken [sic] a shower with him,” and the witness’s face reddened.
“Let’s talk about your uncle in Maine,” McGettingan said suddenly shifting topics.
“My uncle Tim?” The young man in the chair seemed perplexed.
“Did you know he called us about you…Did you know that’s why you were spoken to [by police] so often?”
“I do now,” Hilton said meekly.
“Did you know he called us last night?” McGettigan pressed.
After Hilton left the stand, there was a longer than usual mid-morning break, and the attorneys were called back to the judge’s chambers. During the wait, courtroom chatter included speculation that the mysterious Uncle Tim might be part of the prosecution’s final rebuttal case after the defense rested. Many believed the commonwealth would also play an unaired portion of a November 2011 NBC interview with Bob Costas in which Sandusky made potentially incriminating statements about himself and children at his Second Mile charity.
As the recess minutes ticked by, Sandusky rose from the defense table and wandered over to a group of supporters who have routinely sat directly behind him. Despite looking at a possible 500-year prison sentence, the 68-year-old looked at ease, smiling and enjoying idle chit-chat with his friends. In retrospect, it seems he knew at that time that his team was about to bring it all to an end, and that the judge was in the process of blocking any further prosecution presentation.
Three minutes after the late-morning session got underway, it was over. At 11:48 a.m., Judge Cleland told the jury to take the rest of the day off: to go home and pack a suitcase, and to be prepared to be sequestered after tomorrow’s closing arguments.
Jerry Sandusky’s final mile begins tomorrow morning at 9 a.m.